Rare ‘zonkey’ born in African wildlife preserve — see photos of the 'highly unusual' foal

A “zonkey” foal — a cross between a zebra and a donkey — was born in a Kenyan wildlife preserve in a rare event that has delighted officials.

The “highly unusual hybrid” came into the world in early 2020, but it wasn’t until April that staff at the Kenze Anti-Poaching Team’s base in Chyulu Hills National Park got close enough to the newborn to notice it’s striking characteristics.

“That was when her birth announcement revealed a whole new, surprising twist,” a press release by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which operates the Kenze base, explained. “While zebra foals are born with white and brown stripes that eventually turn black, this little one’s body was suspiciously light on stripes and overwhelmingly tawny in color. At first, we thought that it had just been wallowing in the mud bath, but then the truth dawned on us: Our wayward zebra had given birth to a zonkey!”

Credit: The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The zonkey combines the sturdy body of its donkey father with the striped legs of its zebra mother, which makes for a rather striking creature.

But just how did the unique little foal come to be? Well, exactly how you might expect.

In May 2019, a female zebra that ventured out of her home in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park made friends with a local farmer’s cattle herd, which she lived with for weeks.

Eventually, members of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust stepped in to safely relocated the lost zebra to the Kenze Anti-Poaching Team’s base in Chyulu National Park — but by then, the zonkey had already been conceived.

“The gestation period of a zebra is twelve months, so it’s not difficult to connect the dots,” officials explained. “During her time living within the community last year, she had obviously become acquainted with an amorous donkey.”

Credit: The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Sadly, zonkeys are mules, meaning this little one won’t be able to reproduce once it reaches maturity.

But for now, the rare creature and its mother are said to be doing well in captivity.

“We’re happy to report that mum and baby are thriving,” the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust said. “Their new home is in an area that isn’t plagued by heavy predation and thanks to the lush conditions, water and grass plentiful it is a good place to call home.”

Credit: The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

“We have over the decades raised many orphaned zebras, and in time, we will add to this unusual pair when it becomes time to release any zebra orphans, while this unusual pair wait for some wild zebra’s to discover them both,” the group added. “Until that day comes, they seem quite content to spend their days grazing side-by-side, a sight that makes us all stop and marvel at the wonders of nature.”

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